by Anne Calder
In April 2022, the ISU Ice Dance Technical Committee announced the Senior Rhythm Dance requirements for the 2022-2023 season. The pattern was removed and replaced with a Choreographic Rhythm Sequence. For the first time in almost 100 years, a set-pattern dance would not be competed by Seniors in organized competitions.
Ice Dance has its roots in the late 19th century when couples began tracing popular ballroom dances on the ice. The first compulsory dance (CD) was performed in Vienna, Austria, and named the Scholler March after its inventor.
By the 1930s, ice dancing that initially had begun as a recreational and social activity had graduated to competitions with rules set down by national figure skating organizations. Ice dancers in Great Britain began creating many new compulsory dances needed for the growing number of competitions.
Ice Dance, which included compulsory and free dances was officially competed for the first time at the 1952 World Figure Skating Championships in Paris, France.
In 1968 the Original Set Pattern (OSP) was added and skated between the compulsory and free dance. In the OSP a designated rhythm and music type would be changed yearly by the ISU Technical Dance Committee while a couple would select its own music and create its own dance. The name was shortened to Original Dance in 1990.
Major changes were made for the 2010-2011 season. The compulsory dance and original dance were merged into the new short dance, which included a pattern that would change every year. For the first time, three Key Points were designated to evaluate the correct execution of the pattern.
At the 2010 World Championships, Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali. (ITA) performed the final compulsory dance per se – the Golden Waltz. The following August, USA’s Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus skated the first short dance in international competition at the 2010 Junior Grand Prix in Courchevel, France.
The Short Dance was renamed the Rhythm Dance in 2018. The Key Points were increased to four.
In May, Figure Skaters On line caught up with Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker fresh off their first Olympic Games and on tour with Stars on Ice. The duo shared their anticipations for the Rhythm Dance changes in the upcoming season.
“It’s kind of a shame that they won’t have the pattern in the rhythm dance anymore,” Baker said. “If you were to look at ice dance over the past four or five years, it’s lost a little bit of its essence in the pattern dance anyway. You’re losing the root of what made ice dance kind of ice dance with the loss of the pattern dance. It’s a shame that they got rid of it.
“The addition of a choreographic step sequence in the rhythm dance is going to bring a really cool liveliness to the dance. It could bring more of an audience into the picture because it will make it a little bit more interesting, where the pattern dance didn’t for the average fan.
“Anything that just gives us a little bit more freedom, or more opportunity to have some fun depending on your creativity is great. It all depends on your choice of music because realistically in the end that’s going to determine what elements you’re going to choose.”
Hawayek agreed with her partner. “I think especially from a standpoint of just the history of ice dance, the pattern dance has always been there. It’s required in ice dance testing. It was its own event, so it’s just a bit hard to imagine ice dance without any sort of pattern dance.
“At the same time, things can’t always stay the same, so I’m going into it with an open mind and also with the excitement of having a choreo step sequence to bring out some creativity. I think it could bring more engagement for sure and more interest to the sport. So, it’ll be interesting. I have my reservations, but I do think that there could be some benefit.”
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In Norwood, several participants shared their thoughts on the new Rhythm Dance changes.
Canadian Coach Patrice Lauzon strongly voiced his personal views. He and partner (wife) Marie- France Dubreuil are two-time World silver medalist. Lauzon is co-founder of the Ice Academy of Montreal (I.AM).
“I am very happy the Pattern Dance (PD) isn’t in the Rhythm Dance (RD) anymore. I never liked it in the RD, although I do love the Compulsory Dance. I would like them to bring back Compulsory Dance as a whole or do a separate competition.
I really like it, and I think there would be a market for that. I never thought it fit well in the Rhythm Dance. It was hard to judge, it broke the program and people didn’t do it well. I never liked it in the Short Program or Rhythm Dance.”
“Some people who are sad because there isn’t the pattern in the Rhythm Dance loved the Compulsory Dance. They loved being able to compare apples to apples. I agree with all that. I didn’t think it was good for the whole performance, for the whole show and enjoyment of the program and how you were able to build the program as a whole.
“It was hard to fit in the program and not make it stick out. For me it was kind of forced into something. It was never very super fluid.
“It’s not often in our sport where you are able to fully work on something and really develop it to its maximum and spend time working on it. With the choreography when it sometimes doesn’t work then you work on something else. With Compulsory Dance you’re forced to make it work because it’s a set step. It’s a great way to do skating. I like it a lot.
“Back when Compulsory Dance was dropped, I heard the rating wasn’t doing well with the Olympics and people didn’t want to watch it. I don’t really believe it because at the same time there are other sports that don’t get a huge TV audience – some beautiful sports that are not super popular with the fans. I think it’s ok if some disciplines don’t sell tickets.”
Coach Lauzon accompanied several teams to Skate America who spoke with IDC about the Rhythm Dance changes.
Evan Bates with partner Madison Chock is a ten-time US National medalists. (3 x gold) Bates recently competed at his fourth Olympics and has also earned over 40 international medals.
“There are big changes in our sport this season,” Bates said. “I think the reasoning behind it is good because it’s going to attract more fans to ice dance. It’s going to be really exciting for the public to see variation in what’s being put out on the ice in the Rhythm Dance.
“I also see so much value in doing the Pattern Dances. I think the decision to have the Juniors still do them is a great one because it’s good for development. It’s good for skating skills, partnering and keeping that part of our sport alive. I’m really happy with that decision. Once you get to the senior level ice dance is a sport that is really enjoyable for those of us who live it and breathe it. This year with the new set of rules we’ll hopefully attract more fans.”
Ukrainians Mariia Holubtsova and Kyryl Bielobrov were invited to train in Montreal after the Russian invasion of their homeland in February 2022. The team arrived in Canada on July 2 and continue to work with the I.AM coaches.
Holubtsova noted, “I like the Pattern Dance because it’s easiest for us, but for the audience it’s a bit the same and boring.
I like the change because it’s more beautiful and different.”
Bielobrov felt differently. “With the Pattern Dance it’s a great way to differentiate between the couples and the level. It’s easy to understand because everyone is doing the same thing. You can clearly see if someone is really skating better. Personally for me, I miss this part of the dance, and I hope it will come back.”
Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain le Gac are married and represent Canada. Le Gac moved to Montreal in 2014 with his French coach, Romain Haguenauer. The team represented France for seven years before switching to her birth country.
“I like the Pattern Dance for the skating skills, but the program is now more balanced and equal for the energy,” Le Gas said. “Pattern Dance was like a part of the program that was different from the rest. We thought they may change part of the Pattern Dance, like the position or maybe add some new stuff on it. I don’t mind the Choreographic Step for Latin, but what about other rhythms?”
Lauriault responded to her partner. “I think it could also work for other styles. It would be fun. In the free dance there is Waltz, Foxtrot etc. There is so many rhythms in the free dance and everybody does a Choreo step, and it’s really fun to watch. I think it’s bringing more character and story lines into the Choreo Step. It’s more difficult in the Rhythm than the Free Dance. I was sad to say bye to the Pattern Dance because it’s the origin of ice dance, but I like the change. It’s more joyful than wringing your hands going into some of the more difficult patterns.”
Holly Harris and Jason Chan are in their fourth season as partners representing Australia. The team made its Grand Prix debut at the 2022 Skate America. Harris was born in Sydney. Chan is a Montreal native.
Chan diplomatically pointed out the pros and cons of the change. “I kind of miss the Pattern Dance. It’s something we work on all year – the kind of attainable perfection we strive for. At the same time, the Choreographic Rhythm Sequence is kind of fun and adds variety to the Rhythm Dance and can highlight what you’re good at.”
“Personally I find it [the Choreographic Rhythm Sequence] fun because you have this opportunity to dance especially with Latin this season. It will be interesting to see what happens with say the waltz,” wondered Harris. “It is fun to see how the sport is evolving”
Part II with lots more interviews is coming on Wednesday.